Latest Posts​

Composite or Hardwood decking? ​

In the not too distant past, back when I first picked up a shovel and ventured into landscaping and garden design, timber decking was all the rage and we were throwing together American style decks like there was no tomorrow.  Except tomorrow it rained, and the day after, and half of the days to come after that.  We soon realised that softwood was not meant for decking in the UK, especially in the gardens of the North West of England.  After all of the scrubbing and re-staining along came composite decking.  It look a bit plastic but it meant we could still have decking but we didn't have to spend hours maintaining each year.  It didn't look perfect but it did the trick, kind of!   Over the past few years decking has really made a comeback and whereas before my clients shuddered at the suggestion of a deck, many are now seeing the benefits of them and they’ve once again become an integral part of the contemporary landscape.  They add texture with their clean lines and bright ideas such as ground level decks they break up the paving adding shape and form.   The question I ask my clients when they include decking in their design brief is Timber or Composite?  I still see that shudder as soon as i mention timber.  “No not softwood, hardwood” I explain, yet still I’m met with reservations.  Which should you choose, what are the benefits of each type of material and what are the drawbacks?    Let’s start with composite decking.  Often recycled plastics and wood fibres this isn't going to rot, swell, twist and warp although the frame it’s built on may still do so.  Some are non-slip but a lot are not and equally dangerous especially in frosty or damp, shady conditions.  You can now use composite frames to build decks on which it a no-brainer if you ask me, but this is the most expensive way of building a deck.  Composite require very little maintenance, just the odd sweep and washing down.  My problem with them is always the visual appeal, some look good especially in silver as they don't look so much like plastic wood.  Within the last few years Millboard has risen and brought us their incredible Enhanced grain which is polyurethane moulded from smooth timber to give a really effective and non-slip finish (see image).  It actually looks like wood!  It’s not cheap however and by far the most expensive option when creating a deck but well worth it.  Follow the link for more information  Forget your previous experiences of Scandinavian Pine decking, there is a natural alternative in alternative softwoods and tropical hardwoods.  If it’s in the damp shade all day then  it can gather algae and may get slippy as will anything, even composite decking in the same position.  There are several options from the more durable softwoods such as Red Western  Cedar and Siberian Larch to the almost indestructible tropical hardwoods such as Yellow Balau, Iroko, Mandioqueira  etc.  All FSC certified and sourced from sustainable sources although they wouldn’t be as environmentally friendly as composite.  For me this is the look I would want in my garden.  It won't look as new if left alone forever so it does require maintenance to keep it looking fresh, Cedar every year or two, Balau and similar hardwoods every 3-5 years as it’s more durable and  dense.  Avoid a grooved finish in my opinion, you might think it adds more grip but it allows dirt and the slippy stuff to take hold and is harder to maintain.  A nice smooth finish will give you the best look and make life a little easier when it  comes around to sanding and sealing.  As for expense, in the long run it may prove more costly with the maintenance if you're employing someone to do the work but for installations hardwood is a lot cheaper.  So even if you're living in soggy Manchester it's certainly worth considering for your  landscape design project.  For a good selection of hardwood timber and similar products take a look at the link below. There is one more to consider called Kebony.  It’s a sustainable softwood engineered to take on the properties of hardwood.  It requires little to no maintenance and gives you the finish of a striking tropical hardwood.  It’s an incredible material developed in Norway, it silvers beautifully and you'll sleep much better at night knowing how much more environmentally friendly it is compared to tropical hardwoods.  Follow the link below for more information.    ​  

Winter is coming 

When you think ‘winter’ you don’t automatically think ‘garden’.  You’ve spent all that time and money during the summer on getting your garden right, in roll the dark nights, you get home from work only to find a black abyss as you peer out of your window towards your borders.   Being a contemporary garden designer in Cheshire I am all too aware of the climate and lets be honest, it’s not the Algarve.  Wet and windy conditions are another reason not to head outside at this time of year.   Having said that, with the right mood lighting those dark, wet and windy nights can be something of a spectacle whilst sat in the warmth and comfort of your living room.  In fact many of the gardens I’ve designed in the past have often looked their best at night.  You get to see textures you wouldn’t normally notice and highlight plants with architectural forms that look impressive during the day but staggering at night.  You can expect to spend approximately 5-10% of your budget on lighting but you’ll get 50% more garden throughout the year.  Worth it?  Without doubt, lighting is one of the most important features of my designs and when designing your garden I will create a lighting scheme as part of the design service. For some lighting inspiration take a look at my Pinterest board… Keep an eye out for future blogs for information on lighting schemes, techniques and tips and tricks.​

What is a garden to you?

Cheshire landscape designer give his thought on what a garden means to us

New Cheshire Garden Designer 

I thought it might be a good idea to not only introduce my new blog but also myself as I’m new to Cheshire.   Having spent 10 years in South Wales designing gardens, my wife and I fancied a change of scenery and took it upon ourselves to sell our home and buy a house in Knutsford after falling in love with the area during our quest to find somewhere new to live. Having done my research I noticed there’s a fair few garden designers to choose from in Cheshire so I thought to myself, ‘how am I going to stand out’?  Which leads me nicely to introducing my blog.  Ok, so it’s a bit of a gimmick to get me up the rankings on google so don’t be surprised if you see me dropping in ‘Cheshire garden designer’ here and there. My blog is also an opportunity to explain a little about who I am and what my design philosophy is.  When I looked into local landscape designers I felt that my portfolio had something else to offer.   So what’s my style?  I’ll always design a garden that the client requests so if you say Japanese garden, that’s what you’ll get.  As with any creative there’s always going to be a slice of the designer within their creation.   Over the years my portfolio has slowly been looking more and more like my kind of garden.  I’m always drawn to more contemporary gardens with strong formal lines and that is often visible in my designs.  I love minimalism but I love bold statements and textures too so contrasts are something I work with a lot.   Ever since I was a young, budding art student I’ve loved modern architecture.  The more I am able to express my style in my designs the more evidential that becomes, as with the natural landscape being a keen hiker and traveller.  So if I have free reign over a garden design you’ll see wild elements of textured planting with stark architectural contrasts, natural materials next to the more contemporary and even industrial.  With that in mind I’m very much a ‘less is more’ kind of person so I don’t over complicate my designs, and on that note I shall not overcomplicate my first blog.   As I develop my blog and as I develop as a garden designer I shall be sharing my thoughts and philosophies as well as anything I might learn along the way, or if there’s something useful I might share that with you too.  ​

Working with Architects and Interior designers to achieve coherent and exiting spaces

Below is an article I've recently written for Landscaping magazine 'Landscape & Urban Design' January/February issue.  See the full article on page 40-41 online  at   In the planning and designing of domestic outdoor spaces the garden designer may often find his or herself low down in the pecking order as the architecture and interior are prioritised naturally.  I’m often told “we don’t know the budget for the garden yet, we’ll see what’s left after we’ve finished the house”! As a garden designer and a fan of architecture, in particular the use of glass in modernist buildings, it excites me to see large windows being installed, bringing the outside-in and ultimately giving your place as a garden designer much more precedence. The relationship between client, architect, interior and garden designer can sometimes be a challenge as we’ll all have our own ideas.  First and foremost we have to please the client whilst staying true to the architecture and working with the interior to create a flowing and coherent space.  Lets not forget adding your own touch as a designer too as the client has invested in you and your style. Continuity and cohesion are words I use a lot during consultations as the success of a space can weigh heavily on them. Clear communication and an understanding of the architect and interior designer’s intensions can only help you fulfil such philosophies.  In any creative industry, borrowing and allowing our surroundings to influence our work is how we progress, it’s what drives new ideas. Approaching garden design whilst working with other professionals should be the same.  Using elements of the architecture and interior in the garden may feel like cheating but it creates a bond and a relationship between the elements and ultimately leads to coherent design. Each project, client and collaboration brings a new experience and keeps us on our toes as new relationships are created and exciting spaces spring up out of the ground.  A recent experience of working with an architect and the interior designer, who happen to be husband and wife and owners of the garden, saw a project take shape in an uncustomary fashion.  Whilst given artistic license on the design which would sit next to a modern renovation, during the build their influence lead to changes which I may not have agreed with at the time. However a creative understanding and a willingness to work with and listen to each other lead to a successful relationship and ultimately a one space that flows from inside-out.  Good design is often not the idea of one, but the collective thoughts and teamwork of everyone involved.      


Robert Hughes Garden Design is an award winning, innovative and creative landscape design practice based in Knutsford, Cheshire.  


I offer a professional garden design service to domestic and commercial clients in Cheshire, Manchester, Liverpool and all around the North West of England.

let's talk

Robert Hughes

7 Ash Grove, Knutsford,

Cheshire, WA16 8BB


01565 621304 

07825 371337


FB: /RobertHughesGardenDesign



Robert Hughes Garden Design

Robert Hughes Garden Design

Robert Hughes Garden Design